Any Mandarin speaker will tell you that half the battle of learning Mandarin is mimicking. Listening and repeating is an essential tool that is part of any foreign language classroom, but especially so for Mandarin. What many learners don’t realize until further down their Mandarin learning path, is that while they are mimicking the language, they are also unconsciously mimicking the tone, the voice, the facial expression, and the situational usage from their teacher as well! That’s why choosing the right Mandarin teacher is an extremely underrated factor in your language learning journey. Here are the top 5 things to look for when choosing your Mandarin Teacher.
Although we know Mandarin to be the dominant language of the Chinese Language family, anybody who’s done any travelling around Chinese-speaking countries knows that Mandarin is vastly different depending on where you are. From the famous Beijing “er” (儿) tacked onto the end of words, to the absent retroflexes “Zhi, Chi, Shi, Ri” in Taiwanese, almost every place has a distinct way of using the language.
Try to choose a teacher that is from where you want to be spending most of your time speaking Chinese or where most of the people you want to communicate with are from. As an alternative, you can always default to the Beijing Dialect, as that is what most Chinese consider the most standard and widely-understood.
Gender has a major impact on intonation, but more importantly on character choice. Whereas many of China’s female population like to tack on characters like “ma” (嘛), “la” (啦) and “ba” (吧) to the end of sentences, males tend to end their sentences more blunt and direct. Small examples like this are prominent throughout the Mandarin language. The higher you progress in your studies, the more important it becomes to recognize these forms of speech used by different genders. Once you can recognize it, you can mold your speech to come out precisely the way you want it to sound.
Although it has a reputation for being easy, teaching is by no means something that is 100% natural to anybody. When learning Mandarin, keeping your studies organized, structured, and professional is a must! Not everybody can teach, and looking at the experience of teachers and the progress their current students are making can give you a good idea as to where your Chinese will be if you stick with them. Be sure to ask about what type of teaching materials (PPTs, worksheets, flashcards) they can provide. Experienced teachers will almost always have a wide variety of materials from their years of teaching.
Much like gender, age has an obvious impact on the way people speak not just Chinese but all languages around the world. Just like English, words and phrases go in-and-out of style.
Before selecting a teacher, assessing which age group you will communicate with the most and finding a teacher in that range is very important. For example, if you’re learning Chinese to meet the in-laws or communicate with a grandparent, perhaps an older teacher is the best way to go. Whereas if you’re looking to fit in with a group of local 20-somethings, you’ll want to know the internet slang and idioms that are common today.
No matter what the end goal of your Mandarin learning is, knowing the profession of a potential teacher is a must. If you’re learning for work or for a test, a full-time teacher is naturally the best option, but there are other choices too! If you’re at a high level already, and want more focused lessons (business, medical, etc.), you can also find somebody in your same profession that teaches on the side. Utilizing these special traits that potential teachers have will greatly elevate your fluency!
In the end, the most important factor in your language learning journey is your motivation and commitment to it. Learning Mandarin is a long journey, but building a solid foundation and keeping your studies consistent with what and how you want to learn can help your speech . That being said, in the end, the most important thing is that you’re making progress in your studies, and speaking as much as possible, no matter what your regional accent is or if tack on a few too many ma(嘛)s ba(吧)s!